49ers HOF


Though considered to be one of the “more modern” National Football League teams due to its entry into the senior circuit in the 1950 merger with the All American Football Conference, the San Francisco Forty Niners have held a very special place in the hearts of their fans since the team’s 1946 inception. It is rather easy to forget that professional sports were the province of the eastern United States until the end of World War II, with the major share of business and banking done within the big city confines east of the Mississippi River. For many, everything west of that was viewed as a pioneer outpost. The War changed that perspective as many servicemen who passed through the beautiful city to their deployment in the Pacific Theater, or were discharged upon their return there, liked the combination of eastern architecture, mild year-round weather, and a culture of sophistication found in few other U.S. cities. During the Second World War itself, the population of San Francisco increased by more than twenty-five percent and then boomed after the War.

The City had plenty of top-level collegiate sports, especially football with Stanford, Cal, St. Mary’s, Santa Clara, and The University Of San Francisco playing quality ball. Sunday football was a staple among the Catholic colleges and popular with fans. Businessman Anthony Morabito approached the National Football League for a San Francisco based team but was rebuffed. He immediately petitioned the All American Football Conference who perhaps had more foresight in seeing a built-in rivalry between San Francisco and a team in Los Angeles, and granted Morabito a franchise. Morabito’s brother Victor and his partners in the lumber business thus became the founders of the franchise which had immediate credibility with the hiring of head coach Lawrence “Buck” Shaw. He put together an exciting team with noticeable players like former Stanford stars Frankie Albert and Norm Standlee, [ see HELMET HUT http://www.helmethut.com/College/Stanford/CAXXSU4764.html ] and the San Francisco Forty Niners were off and running.

The 1950 merger brought the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and Forty Niners into the NFL as intact teams while dividing the player assets of the others to the various existing NFL clubs. Realignment and the introduction of televised games found the Niners embraced by fans across the nation despite a 3-9 record. The team featured a philosophy of exciting offense and big name talent that sustained their reputation for providing a great stadium experience. It remained this way through the 1950’s and into the early ‘70’s, always a team that was dangerous and explosive, although they seemed to miss the brass ring of a championship. When the Morabito widows sold the team to Edward DeBartolo in 1977, it did not take long to shed the “exciting, explosive, but not quite there” label that had dogged the team from its birth. With DeBartolo as the owner and Hall Of Fame head coach Bill Walsh at the helm, the Niners became one of the most storied franchises in NFL history, with five Super Bowl championships and a slew of Pro Football Hall Of Fame inductees including coach Walsh, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott, and Jerry Rice.

The Forty Niners began play at Kezar Stadium and remained there until the start of the 1971 season when they relocated to the more accessible Candlestick Park. After eight years of planning and construction in Santa Clara, the team and its current owners, the York family, opened 1.85 million square foot Levi’s Stadium with a Major League Soccer event on July 17, 2014. For football fans of course, the 68,500 seat and up to 75,000 capacity stadium did not truly open until it hosted its beloved Niners which occurred with a pre-season game on August 17 and its first regular season contest on September 14. The stadium boasts every amenity a fan would wish for and a willingness to embrace an environmentally sensitive posture, providing for state-of-the-art inclusions that blend so well with its Silicon Valley location. One of the main features is the 49ers Museum. The 20,000 square foot Museum Presented By Sony gives a representative look at Forty Niners history in a unique and fascinating manner. Innovative, educational displays and interactive stations in eleven very unique exhibit and gallery locations bring the Niners past and present to life. Designed by Cambridge Seven Associates, the legacy of the Forty Niners organization is captured and presented in the most memorable of ways.

The most outstanding features of the museum are the lifelike statues of the Niners greats. Though most major and unique projects begin with the hopes to remain on budget, the Brooklyn based StudioEIS soon realized that cost had to be a secondary consideration if their vision of the ultimate Forty Niners display would come to fruition. The York Family agreed, wishing to be as authentic as possible. The clarification and confirmation of detail was arduous and included the procurement of numerous game worn helmets and cleats, authentic to each era of representation. Quite a bit of equipment and advice came from the vaults of HELMET HUT, very much honored and excited to be able to contribute to this wonderful project. The artists get credit for completing the project with the intent of being complete and accurate. The results are quite amazing, with each of the Forty Niners players represented, displayed in various, realistic poses, wearing uniforms and equipment that are exacting because actual uniforms were in fact incorporated into each hand crafted statue. The team of artists carefully measured for each player’s height, weight, and bodily dimensions, added era correct pads and uniform modifications, recreated each piece to be as lifelike as possible, and then finished each player in a most unique manner. The results have been incredible and fan response predictably enthusiastic. From the “Million Dollar Backfield” of Y.A. Tittle, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny, and John Henry Johnson to Dwight Clark’s historical “The Catch” to Super Bowl heroes Montana and Rice, Forty Niners history has been brought to life, insuring that the Museum will always be a highlight of any Levi’s Stadium visit.